Chapter 4

Big Mind Country

Ram Das and his book Be Here Now was my guide. Ram Das was the former Richard Alpert, who along with Timothy Leary, Huston Smith and Andre Weil formed the Harvard Psychedelic club, and he realized LSD was not a sustainable lifestyle. He went to India and met his Guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Through the practices of yoga and meditation he had similar consciousness expanding experiences as he had had on LSD. I wanted the eternal now outside the perceived limits of time and space through the practice of meditation. No side effects. No burn out.

I was beginning to read the Christian mystics to receive a different understanding of Christianity from how I was raised. This passage from Saint Augustine caught my attention. ““How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet? As for the present, if it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time, but eternity.”

The eternal now seemed so attractive compared to the challenges of my temporal existence. Just having fun had some limitations for me.

We live in a culture where today addiction is reaching epidemic proportions. It seems like some people try to reduce the intensity of life and intimate relationships by dulling themselves or numbing out with nicotine, alcohol, over-eating, shopping, prescriptions, drugs, sex, video games and not always so smart smart phones. Some keep themselves busy and distracted with an addiction to work and exercise. Constant sensory bombardment is available today right on our smart phones. Brave New World indeed!

I might have been one of the last people on the Planet with a flip top. I symbolically donated it to the Smithsonian.

The antidote according to the Yogic sages is the fifth limb of Raja Yoga or pratyahara. It is the twofold management of your senses. We choose wisely what we want to come into the senses to maintain peace of mind and good health. We also develop skill at not allowing sensory impressions to disturb us. The goal is freedom from cravings and addictions. I’ll repeat that: freedom from cravings and addictions.

That benefit always got the attention of my audiences when I would do Lunch and Learn talks at companies in the 90’s titled Untwisting the Myths of Yoga. They would put down their sandwiches and lean in.

Patanjali knew it is difficult if not impossible to still the chatter of the mind if it is over-stimulated. The whole range of sensory therapies like color therapy, music therapy, aromatherapy and massage therapy can be utilized. Getting off the grid and taking news and Facebook fasts can be a practice. As I get older, silence is one of my best friends.

I went back to college in 72. I quit my pack and a half daily cigarette habit cold turkey. I stayed away from bars and rarely drank alcohol or smoked marijuana. I became a vegetarian and an herbalist. I began to detox. I drifted away from my high school psychedelic club friends and began to develop friendships in college. They tended to be intellectual existential agnostic types into drugs and jazz.

What I was longing for was a community of like minded souls who could share their meditation practices and experiences with me and demonstrate how they might apply the meditative mind to the challenges of life. What I received was teasing or ridicule so I returned to keeping it personal and realized that we have friends for different reasons and needs, and if we can find one person we can connect with on all levels like my wife Allison then we are indeed fortunate. I discovered later that even community has its challenges. My refuge was the chicken coop and my books. I was not chickening or numbing out, I was the hero of my journey which is much harder to do alone.

I discovered Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. I struggled to meditate a lot with only the support of some books and practiced some postures to help me with sitting comfortably. Trying to clear the mind or stop it from thinking was impossible. I found what he said to be comforting.

Suzuki said in his now classic book: When you are practicing zazen meditation, do not try to stop thinking. Let it stop by itself. If something comes into your mind, let it come and let it go out. It will not stay long. When you try to stop your thinking, it means you are bothered by it. Do not be bothered by it. Do not be bothered by anything. It appears that the something comes from outside your mind, but actually it is only the waves of your mind and if you are not bothered by the waves, gradually they will become calmer and calmer…. Many sensations come, many thoughts and images arise but they are just waves from your own mind. Nothing comes from outside your mind…. If you leave your mind as it is, it will become calm. This mind is called Big Mind.

I wanted Big Mind or at least make friends with my mind and became more solitary. I changed my major to English Literature with minors in Art/Music History, Psychology and Philosophy. I enthusiastically embraced reading. I commuted to college and did not join a fraternity. I eventually became the first DJ to play jazz on the college radio station. I loved the feeling of reaching out to lots of people as a DJ while retaining my sense of solitude. Integrating the contemplative and active life was a balance I was aspiring towards. This balance would find its most complete expression year’s later teaching yoga.

Occasional rock concerts in Cleveland, Buffalo or Pittsburgh would remind me of the sex, drugs and music lifestyle of my past. Seeking meaningful and mind expanding music continued to feed my soul. My childhood love for classical music returned and I fell in love with modern and progressive jazz. I had enjoyed the big band and combo swing of my dad’s era but Bird, Miles, Trane, Coleman and many others reflected being infinitely creative and free. Their music was not determined by what the “Other” thought. What society or the neighbors thought. My mentally conditioned mantras were changing.

I was beginning to shed former mind contracting mantras or thought loops like I am unworthy or I am not good enough.  Let’s just pause here and take a moment to contemplate that one. Have you ever felt unworthy or not good enough? Be honest. How did that express it self? Was it the need to be seen and heard? Check. Did you look for approval from others? Did you seek it from teachers, coaches, peers, siblings, and academic, economic and athletic achievement? Check. Did you seek it through relationships and sex? Check. Did you pursue money and fame? Where did that leave you? Did it work? Or was there still emptiness inside? Did it create addictions? Some yoga masters have said the samskara of unworthiness is the universal one. However, don’t take anything I say or what any yoga teacher says for granted. As Swami Vivekananda once said, test the teachings in the laboratory of your own experience.

This idea did ring true for me and as Peggy Lee once sang, is that all there is? If we discover there is still emptiness, then looking for meaning in religion and spirituality may follow. This was another big rabbit’s hole for me and many others. Remember the Jesus freaks? I had already freaked out with Zappa so I was not drawn to them but knew some. They were sincere in trying a different way to heal their wounds or at least focus on something else instead of materialism, hedonism and television.

My addictive nature had found a new resource.

To Be Continued…